2009's Salvage is a British film that is without the benefits of money (working on a budget just above three hundred thousand US dollars), so there is a need to work around these restraints. There are often common elements when it comes to very low budget films that focus on some sort of apocalyptic occurrence, one being seclusion and the other being character development. You set up the conflict happening outside and somehow trap the characters inside, where the viewer is actually along for the ride that the characters are on, as they are on it in real time. It is something we have seen before, most recently with 2006's Right at Your Door and of course, it goes way back to Romero's Night of the Living Dead.
Salvage follows minimal characters, namely Beth (Neve McIntosh, who gives a powerful performance) and her one 'day' stand, Kieran (Shaun Dooley), as their lives are thrown into chaos when a group of heavily armed military men take over their upper-class neighborhood on Christmas Eve. Forced at gunpoint to stay in their homes, they are left to speculate as to what could be happening in the world outside of their front door. Thoughts immediately go to terrorism, but there seems to be something far more threatening as they may have more to fear than just the armed military personnel, or a foreign attack.
Playing off of characters instead of big explosions, Salvage makes perfect use of its antagonists. The film has characters with complexity, characters with problems and major flaws, but the relatability of those flaws make the characters easy to access on a human level. When the viewer first meets Beth, it is when she is catching a couple of inches from Kieran, only to be caught by her daughter Jodie (Linzey Cocker) after being dropped off by her father a few hours early to spend the Christmas holiday. There is already major strain in their relationship, which is something that plays into the film nicely as a plot point, and pushes the character development. Kieran also holds some qualities that are less than respectable, and this gives a great dynamic to his relationship with Beth, whom he only met that same day.
With little money on his side, director Lawrence Gough has constructed a solid film with an intimate setting, strong characters, and a capable style. Even more so, Salvage plays its tension tightly and the pressure stays on for much of the film's first two acts. There is little to no music as things move quietly at times, adding to the bpm for the characters, as well as the viewer. The runtime is short, and with such a minimal film, that works to its advantage, keeping things very brisk and nicely paced. There are never any moments where things lull, and if they do, it is for the purpose of the fantastic character development.
I do have a few issues with the film, and for the sake of spoilers, I will move very carefully as not to reveal anything. Now, there is a reason why "something" is happening and the reason itself is a bit of a lame duck. However, it is less about the reason and more about the happening itself that matters, but it is clichéd and hokey. And being as vague as one can possibly be, I thought the movie's threat was almost completely ridiculous when the screen presence was known, but that presence is very minimal, as well as being more towards the film's end, so it isn't too disruptive to an otherwise taut little horror movie.
Neither of those issues take anything away from the film as a whole, as Salvage succeeds where many big budgeted FX laden apocalyptic films fail, it uses pieces of the cinematic puzzle that equate to skill and creativity. The possibility that the world is coming to complete catastrophe is made valuable with characters, not with special effects. Salvage is seeing its US release in just a few days from the folks over at Revolver Entertainment, and I highly suggest checking this one out.